The First Real Step of Faith

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

For the last several years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. It is one of the best leadership forums in the country with an impressive list of world-renowned speakers every year. No matter how impressive the speaker list, though, one of the best speakers each year is Bill Hybels, the pastor at Willow Creek.   

In his opening remarks a few years ago Hybels defined leadership as the ability to move an organization from point A to point B. He then said that although getting started isn’t always easy, the hardest part of leadership was keeping the team focused on the goal through the middle of the journey. The middle, Hybels argues, is the hardest part. So he used his speaking time to encourage leaders not to “abort the mission,” especially when the going gets tough in the middle.

I’ve thought about that message repeatedly over the last few years, and it’s sparked two questions in me.

First, when implementing a new vision should we do the hard stuff first or reach for the low-hanging fruit?

Do the hard stuff first. In any transition process, there are easy changes to make, harder changes to make, and gut-wrenching changes to make. While it might make sense to get the ball rolling by doing the easy stuff first, I think it's a mistake.

Back-loading the hardest decisions will always threaten to stall the vision in the dangerous no man’s land between where we’ve been and where we’re going. There's nothing good about getting halfway down the path of transformation only to discover that we’re not willing to make the hard decisions after all.

So we should be willing to tackle the hard stuff first. Today, in many congregational settings, the hard stuff is identity adjustment, strategic re-alignment, and addressing worship and space use challenges.

Tinkering around the edges may be just what we need to push us over the finish line; but only if we’re willing to do the big things first.

So if the middle part of any transition is the hardest part, where do we find courage to move into the second half of the journey?

So maybe you’ve agreed to do the hard stuff first. Maybe you’ve even started doing it. Where do you find the courage to keep moving forward when the hard stuff gets really hard? That’s easy.

Courage is a God-given commodity, meaning it need not be in limited supply.

A good start is just that—a start. But it takes real courage to face the unexpected obstacles we’ll meet once we get started. It takes courage to acknowledge mistakes and make course corrections. It takes courage to meet disappointing setbacks head-on while resisting the urge to turn back.

Courage is the result of faithful prayer, careful planning, clear thinking, group cohesion, and alignment with the power of the Holy Spirit. All leaders and organizations must have courage to navigate the dangerous middle ground between where they are and where they need to go.

At some point, whether we're leading a Fortune 500 company or simply trying to manage our own lives, we all reach the point of the journey where we will no longer be able to go back to the safety of the way things were, and moving beyond that point requires lots of courage!

Reaching out toward what’s ahead is filled with excitement, but it’s also filled with uncertainty. New programs, new visions, new ideas, and new dreams are NEVER guaranteed to work. Most of us, though, are willing to entertain transformational change as long as we know we can go back to the way things were if we need to.

When we, however, reach the proverbial point of no return, we often face an overwhelming temptation to abort the mission—to say, “what were we thinking, this is too risky, it’s too unfamiliar, it will never work.” 

That’s when we need Bill Hybels’ encouraging voice saying, “Don’t abort the mission” the most. No matter how you choose to implement your vision—low hanging fruit or gut-wrenching decisions first—you’ll have to somehow find the courage to take that first step beyond the point of no return and move into the second half of the journey.

That first step into the second part of the journey is the first real step of faith, and it isn’t easy. But with the right groundwork and the right partners, the courage to take that step will be there waiting on us in ample supply. God gives us courage to spare—a courage that is embedded in the vision itself.

To make a biblical analogy, the courage to flee from Pharaoh was embedded in the vision of the Promised Land. To stick with that analogy, getting started may not have been easy, but the middle part was even harder!!

The vision—our ultimate destination—is itself a source of courage. So we ought to always keep our destination in sight. As we began our visioning process at HERITAGE I outlined my personal vision for God's church, and since then we’ve developed a shared vision embodied by the words  "Holy. Healthy. Whole."

The vision is there. We'll need to keep it in front of us for courage. God’s just getting started with us. That means we have some exciting steps of faith just ahead! I can’t wait to take them with you.

See you Sunday.